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With Australia’s delayed vaccine rollout, a reunion with my parents overseas inches further from reach | Jill Stark

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The airport reunions were tough.

As internal borders reopened, families separated for months by lockdown restrictions were made whole again.

The joy and relief of loved ones wrapping their arms around each other was palpable.

But for me, watching those reunions on the news turned the dull ache of longing into a skin hunger so visceral I had to look away for fear it would swallow me.

It’s a strange experience to live in a country we’re told is the “envy of the world” – where normal life has all but resumed for most people – and yet your own life remains in a precarious state of limbo.

The closure of Australia’s international borders since 25 March last year has cut me off from my family, with no sign in sight of when I might see them again.

My parents are in Scotland. My brother and his family in Singapore.

I’m not alone in this predicament. A third of Australians were born overseas and many, like me, migrated here for love or work and still have family abroad.

The human brain is hardwired to crave certainty. We can survive almost anything if we know it has an endpoint.

I’d been holding on, banking on the vaccination rollout as a glimmer of hope that perhaps we could be reunited at the back end of this year.

But on Thursday, as I watched the prime minister announce the AstraZeneca vaccine – which was to be the cornerstone of Australia’s immunisation program – would not be recommended for anyone under the age of 50, I broke down.

With every delay, those reunions inch further from reach.

For health reasons, I didn’t make my annual trip home to Edinburgh in 2019 – the city where I grew up and spent the first 25 years of my life – blithely assuming I’d go back the following year.

Thankfully Mum visited Melbourne in January last year, just before the pandemic hit. Dad has chronic health conditions, which mean he can’t fly. I haven’t seen him since 2018.

It’s hard to convey how much I miss them.

The federal government now says they have no plans to set targets for when all Australians will be offered a vaccination. This ceaseless uncertainty is exhausting. It chips away at hope.

I know I’m lucky to be in a place where Covid has been all but eradicated in the community.

For a year I held my breath waiting for Mum and Dad to be vaccinated in a country where 127,000 people have died.

I’m relieved they’re immunised and safer now. I’m grateful to be healthy, have a job, and a strong network of close friends here.

But it’s possible to appreciate your good fortune while at the same time live with the very real grief that a part of you is missing.

In some ways, this is the migrant experience – your heart forever torn between two countries.

A longing for home when you’re already home.

Pre-Covid, I was always comforted by the knowledge that a family reunion was only 24 hours away. How naive it now seems to take our freedom of movement for granted.

Technology has helped bridge the gap but some things can’t be replicated. The video calls that once sustained me now feel like a cruel and hollow imitation of intimacy. I just want to hug my mum and dad.

The prime minister and his health officials keep saying the vaccination program is going slowly because “we’re not on a burning platform”.

But for those of us separated from family overseas it certainly feels like it – as I’m sure it does for vulnerable aged care and disability residents, people with complex and chronic conditions, the 36,000 Australians stranded abroad, or workers in industries that might not survive another year or more of closed international borders.

Opening Australia up to overseas travel has been framed as an economic imperative. And while that’s true, we must not forget that for countless families, these are deeply personal matters of the heart that can’t be quantified in dollar terms.

I have friends with loved ones overseas who have had to watch funerals on Zoom.

Dying parents who can’t be reached because it’s so difficult and often cost-prohibitive to leave the country.

These are the scenarios that keep me awake at night.

This week, I started looking into the logistics of relocating to Scotland – getting an exemption to travel could be possible if the move is permanent.

I’ve built a life in Melbourne and moving back to Edinburgh would mean starting again from scratch. But if it’s going to be another year or two or more until I can see my parents – now in their mid and late 70s – would staying in Australia be a decision I’d look back on and regret?

Time is such a precious resource.

This pandemic has underscored in the cruellest ways imaginable that it is neither finite nor guaranteed.

I’m not sure what comes next but I know for certain that when I see my family again, the time we spend together will be different.

When Mum was last visiting Australia I crammed her visit full of lavish nights out, weekends away and endless activities.

But looking back, the moments I miss most are the simple ones. The chats over breakfast about everything and nothing. Sitting on my couch in our pyjamas, drinking cups of tea and watching reruns of Shetland.

A long hug at the end of the day.

Just being in the same room.

I know now that’s all that really matters. It’s all that ever did.

Jill Stark is a Scottish-born, Melbourne-based author and mental health advocate

Source link: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/apr/13/with-australias-delayed-vaccine-rollout-a-reunion-with-my-parents-overseas-inches-further-from-reach

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